I really should lose some weight. I should clean my house, I should make that Doctor’s appointment.  I should get going on the (fill in the blank) project.

How often do you SHOULD yourself?

If you are like most people and you were to keep score on a daily basis, you would probably be shocked at the end of the day with your final tally!

We are usually great at recognizing what we should do, but not so great at actually doing it.

But does it matter?

You bet it does! You see, when you tell yourself that you SHOULD do something, you are recognizing and highlighting that there is a problem, or that something needs to be done – but you have very little intention of ACTUALLY DOING IT.

I am sure you have realized by now that shoulds get down when we feel like it, are in the mood, or when it is convenient, but in many cases not at all.

Using the word should is constant reinforcement to yourself that if you were a better person, or had the will power, were strong enough, motivated, smart enough (or whatever is your favorite limiting belief) you would take action, but you are not.

blog 4 ball and chain

You aren’t just procrastinating, you are lowering your self-image while you are procrastinating and more importantly – reducing your chances for success in the future.

Instead of telling yourself all the things you should be doing all day long, pointing out what your better self would be doing, I suggest you take one of two paths.


If the item, task, or behavior in question is truly important to you, my first suggestion is to simply replace the phrase “I should”, with “I am going to”. Notice that I haven’t jumped off too big of a cliff here and actually suggested you PERFORM the task. Let’s not get crazy! By all means, if it is something that can be done right away, get off your duff and do it. That often times can be the best solution, but I have found with many of my clients that “should” is often used for future tasks, those things that we procrastinate on over and over again.

A simple statement like “I am going to lose some weight”, or “I am going to make that Doctor’s appointment”, starts to put the power back in your court. No longer are you admitting defeat and bemoaning your weakness. You are speaking with certainty and verbalizing your commitment. It may sound like a subtle change, but give it a try and you will be amazed at the difference.

There is one more critical piece to this path. While stating that you are going to do something is the first step, there is another step that will help you actually see results and greatly increase your likelihood of following through. The best part is that it is backed by many research studies. It is called utilizing Implementation Intention.

Implementation intention is a fancy way of saying, describe the WHEN and WHERE you will undertake the task or take action. For example, scheduling that Doctor’s appointment we used earlier.

Instead of saying “I should schedule a Doctor appointment.” Choose, “I am going to schedule a Doctor appointment on Monday first thing when I get into the office.” Multiple studies have shown that when two randomly assigned groups are undertaking a task, the group encouraged to decide WHEN and WHERE they would undertake the task were more than TWICE as successful as the group who just agreed to the task. In one study 75% of those who chose a time and place were successful, verses 33% that did not.


I think you will find that not all shoulds are things you are committed to. Sometimes your shoulds are things that originate from other people’s desires, wishes or maybe even societal pressure. For example, you may feel pressure to attend an event because of what others might think, or from some sense of obligation.

The actions for Path two is simple, but not always easy. Identify those shoulds that you are not committed to, are not important enough and that you have no intention of completing. In this case, just give yourself a break! Choose consciously not to add that task to your virtual to do list loop in your head and LET IT GO!

Be ok with the status quo and accept that we all have limited time, resources, energy etc.

The middle ground between the two paths is what causes most people’s frustration. Either choose to make a commitment and set the when and where, or let it go and be ok with not accepting that activity!

Do or Do not, there is no………SHOULD!

Your partner in success


Josh Paulsen